Right around the moment of a kid’s first experience with a needle and a doctor – which typically happens at about .5 hours old – most children develop a less-than-fond relationship with their primary care physician. No matter the coaxing, the assurances that their best interests are being looked out for, or the abundance of pro-doctor themed children’s books that you read, a trip to the doctor’s office lands right next to sharing favorite toys, no dessert, and naptime in terms of desirability. Here’s the rub: even if you’re only there for routine wellness visits (which is unlikely given: foreign objects lodged in nose, trampolines, lack of training wheels, and the young’s sponge-like ability to absorb many many many many viruses), you’ll be regulars at the doc. We’re no strangers to doctor visit-induced tantrums, so here are a few tricks we’ve learned to help get you through the next appointment:
- Head’s Up.
Who doesn’t love a good surprise? The operative word there is, “good”. A bad surprise on the other hand is no cause for celebration, and a visit to the doctor’s office has the potential to be rife with bad surprises. Even something as innocuous as a peek in the ear with the ol’ otoscope can be terrifying to a first-timer. So, give them an idea of what’s coming and how the exam will unfold. And this prep work doesn’t have to end once the doc enters the room. You can continue giving the head’s up as the exam unfolds by asking the doc what they’re about to do, how it will feel, and why they do it.
- The Waiting Game.
There’s plenty of waiting required at the doctor’s office. You know this. Often the waiting room itself has distracting toys or an enjoyable cartoon playing, but the patient room can feel like a terror-inducing holding cell for the coming exam. A little play-acting provides just the trick here…with you as the patient and your kiddo as the doc. Get into it…lay out on the tissue paper, inquire of your doctor’s diagnosis and when fear begins to lay hold of you, they’ll be quick with stirring words of reassurance and a call for bravery.
Given that you once had a childhood as well, a visit to the doc affords an opportunity for storytime. About that time their grandpa had to take you in for regular check-ups as an infant when your skin was yellow (see: jaundice), when their grandma couldn’t stop laughing because the doctor made you gag (see: strep throat test), and that one time you had to get a shot in your…derriere. Knowing you were in the same boat as a kid and survived will help them know they’ll make it.
- Pain, tears, and glory (or, going home)
A head’s up on what’s coming, playing doctor in the exam room and humorous stories about your experiences with doctors as a kid can’t prevent the fact that needles hurt. And sometimes doctors have to poke and prod painfully in order to find the bodily offense. So in these moments, I think it’s enough to simply encourage their bravery, legitimize their tears, and love them through the process.
The prospect of a trip to the doctor won’t likely elicit smiles and rejoicing, but it allows for a unique time of bonding with your child. A notable few of the numerous trips I took to the doc as a kid are etched as deep, significant memories in my mind, but it wasn’t because of a memorable injury or glowing report from the doctor. It was about who chose to be with me. But if your youngster’s appointment involves screaming, hysterics of various kinds, hiding under the exam table, and a good portion of the nursing staff to function as restraints, don’t worry…we’ve all been there.
We’re working on all sorts of dadcraft guides including The Dad’s Guide to Feeding Your Toddler, The Dad’s Guide to Flying with Children, The Dad’s Guide to Reading with Toddlers, and for the ultimate trip to the doc: The Dad’s Guide to the Delivery Room.